`We equate Hindutva with nationalism'

Print edition : April 09, 2004

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani's Bharat Uday Yatra, which is now traversing the country, may not have evoked as much trepidation as his previous two, the Somnath to Ayodhya Ram Rath Yatra (1990) and the Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra (1997; to commemorate 50 years of Independence). However, India holds its breath as Advani's rath winds its way around the country. He himself foresees no trouble. The 77-year-old senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader spoke to Ravi Sharma in his rath as it travelled between the small towns of Hanagal and Shiggoan in northern Karnataka. Excerpts:

K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

This is your third rath yatra. How long do you plan to continue these yatras?

This time it was only about a month back that I thought of a yatra. Earlier I had never undertaken a yatra during an election campaign. Although many people undertake yatras during election time, [they are] not noticed. Even [Rajasthan Chief Minister] Vasundhara Raje and [Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister] Uma Bharati undertook yatras, but they were not noticed. But in my case the very announcement that I am undertaking a yatra makes people remember the Somnath to Ayodhya yatra about which there is a very wrong conception. On that yatra, some stones were pelted at the rath by young boys who were unhappy that the BJP had not withdrawn support to the V.P. Singh government on the Mandal issue. That was the only incident, but yet persistent writing and statements made by some opponents created the impression that that yatra was accompanied by many incidents of violence. Some call it `the bloody yatra'. This is the sort of distortion of image that the BJP has suffered over the years. The BJP is committed to secularism.

What kind of secularism?

Of the kind where there is ample scope for devout Hindus and devout Muslims. In fact, I have often quoted a book titled India is a Secular State by Donald Eugene Smith. He wrote that the concept of secularism of [Mahatma] Gandhi totally differed from that of [Jawaharlal] Nehru. Gandhi's starting point was that all religions embody truth and that they contribute to the ennobling of man. Nehru's starting point was that all religions are generally wrong. He was himself an agnostic. But democracy requires that religion should not be allowed to become a reason of conflict. Therefore the state has to be secular. Gandhi wanted the state to be secular so that it respects all religions; Nehru considered the state to be secular because he felt that the state should have nothing to do with religion. The BJP feels that Gandhi's approach is very right so far as India is considered.

In 1990 I went to the United Kingdom as part of a parliamentary delegation led by the then Speaker Rabi Ray. We were invited for dinner by the Speaker of the British House of Commons and in the evening we were seated at the stated time. Present were parliamentarians from both sides, the two Speakers and other officials. But the dinner wouldn't start. I asked the member of the House of Commons who was seated beside me: "Are we waiting for someone? Is a Minister expected?" He said: "No, but the Chaplain of the House is expected and it is only after he comes and says his prayer that we can start our dinner." I turned to the [Communist Party of India] Marxist member [Basudeb Acharya] sitting beside me and said that if something similar happened in India he would have walked out. What I am trying to say is in India, because of Nehru and to some extent the Marxist impact, secularism came to mean something that has nothing to do with religion. If a person goes to a mosque or a church it is okay, but if he goes to a temple his secular credentials are doubted.

But...

Shortly after my Ram Rath Yatra, there was a session of the BJP in Jaipur where the slogan heard most was `He is going to rule the country who promotes Hindu interests'. I, as the party president, stood up and said that this slogan did not reflect the BJP's viewpoint. I said that Hindus constitute 82 per cent of the Indian population, and that any party that wants to rule a country like India that is multi-religious and multi-lingual must be concerned about the interests of 100 per cent and not 82 per cent. I believe that the slogan was a reaction to those people who think in terms of the interests of only the 18 per cent; for whom the 82 per cent doesn't matter because they know that the 82 per cent cannot be appealed to in the name of religion. There is no such thing as a Hindu block vote, but there is a Muslim block vote and a Christian block vote. In the case of Hindus, those of who think of block votes think in terms of Brahmin votes, Yadav votes, Dalit votes, and even in terms of Telugu votes and Tamil votes, but not in terms of Hindu votes. The slogan should be `He is going to rule the country who promotes national interests'. The impression about the BJP is that the first slogan is its natural slogan, whereas I as president had admonished the cadre for it.

Are you implying that the BJP is being made a scapegoat?

I wouldn't say scapegoat; but from the very beginning politicians could foresee that this party could one day become strong and become a challenge. When Nehru and his Congress had an alliance with the Muslim League in Kerala, we were the only party to criticise it. Nehru's reply was that you must have a different approach to the League pre- and post-1947. Minorities cannot be communal, they are concerned about their interests. This is something we do not endorse. Communalism can be in the majority or in the minority communities.

So is the BJP now trying to be secular?

We are not trying to be secular. This is again wrong. We have been secular. I heard the word secular for the first time when I was 21. I had come from Karachi. There was no political party [Jan Sangh] then and I was associated with the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh]. I asked the RSS chief, Guruji [M.S.] Golwalkar, what secular meant. His reply was that secular in the West had a peculiar connotation - the quarrel between the state and the Vatican. But if secular is supposed to mean that the state shall not distinguish and discriminate between one citizen and another on grounds of his religion, Golwalkar said that traditional Hindu polity had always regarded the state as secular. He also said that it was ironic that Nehru should have chosen the Ashoka Chakra as the state emblem because Ashoka's kingdom was Buddhist and not a secular state.

The RSS at its recent Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Jaipur criticised the BJP for not pushing a Hindutva line...

It all depends on what you mean by a Hindutva line.

Whatever the RSS means.

Recently, there was an article by a French scholar in which he said that the BJP has now taken up development as its main plank and that it has abandoned the nationalistic plank. He didn't use the word Hindutva. The article added that the BJP was saying that it wanted a developed country in order to be a strong country. This is nothing but nationalism.

So you are equating Hindutva with nationalism?

Yes. The scholar was equating development with nationalism. But we equate Hindutva with nationalism and we say that the terms Hindu, Bharatiya and Indian are slogans of sorts. Hindutva, even according to the Supreme Court, is India's way of life, not the name of a creed.

Has not the BJP, in its quest for power, sacrificed interests that it espoused earlier?

The BJP has not sacrificed any of its interests. Not even shelved anything for the moment. But if you have a government of this kind [National Democratic Alliance], you have to have a common programme. Even within a party, you have one person thinking in one way and another thinking in another way. People may not be aware that RSS chief Golwalkar made a statement that he didn't agree with the Jan Sangh's idea that a common law [common civil code] would lead to unity. He said that though Hindu society comprised people from [different ethnic, linguistic and geographic backgrounds], their different civil laws, marriage laws and so on, it had not led to disunity. His statement was hailed by many Muslim organisations. But he also said that this was his view, he didn't want the party to follow it.

But how long can you keep out issues like the construction of Ram temple, the abrogation of Article 370 and the uniform civil code just to accommodate the common minimum programme of the NDA? Will it last?

It is lasting. It has worked well.

But when will the BJP push for these issues? Are you waiting for a majority of your own in Parliament?

Even otherwise... As an Opposition you can push forward anything, but in government you have to all the while calculate whether you will be able to implement it through the two Houses. Even if this government was not a coalition and was of a different composition, you have to think all the while what is acceptable. Today I would like to see a law that controls population [growth]. For example, a person who after a certain date has more than two children will not be able to become a public representative either in a panchayat, Assembly or Parliament...

But the law already exists in some States...

Yes, but I have been of the view that this should be extended so that a person with more than two children will not be eligible even for a government job. But even if I'm in favour of this law there may be colleagues, leave alone allies, who are not in favour of it.

Do you agree that it is sheer political opportunism that is prompting several politicians to switch allegiance to the BJP?

Many of them are in public life because they think they should be in power. But our approach is not that. [Prime Minister Atal Bihari] Vajpayee or me have been in the Opposition all our lives. It is a matter of chance that I have come to government. I may not have too...

In my analysis, the progress of the BJP [should be attributed] to two major mistakes made by Rajiv Gandhi - amending the law after the Shah Bano verdict and cooperating with the Ayodhya movement. First he asked [Union Minister] Arif Mohammed Khan to defend the Shah Bano verdict, then a month later he turned turtle and amended the law to undo that Supreme Court judgment. Similarly, he used [Union Minister] Buta Singh to cooperate with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP], had the shilanyas done and the gates of the temple opened. It is these steps that made the BJP finally decide to support formally the Ayodhya movement. Until then for many years we had kept away from the Ayodhya movement, leaving it to people such as Rajmata Scindia, Uma Bharati and Swami Chinmayanand. They used to be active in the VHP and we felt that it was the right cause, let them be active, but not the BJP.

But Rajiv didn't believe in the Ayodhya movement, he didn't believe in the demand of Muslims, but for pure vote bank politics he was taking decisions. Therefore I thought I will advocate the thought of Ayodhya by making it a debate between secularism and pseudo-secularism. With this in mind I started the Ram Rath Yatra.

Do you still believe that the Ram temple should be built at Ayodhya?

The temple should be built at Ayodhya.

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